Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Treat it like wine

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Harvesting early produces robust oils that are pungent and bitter, but less juice runs from unripe fruit. As the olives ripen on the tree, fruity flavors develop, then round, buttery notes. Medium ­intensity oils offer a mix of green bitterness and judicious fruit, whereas delicate (or mild) oils are round, smooth, and rarely bitter. Don’t, however, mistake the label delicate for lacking in flavor. Just like restrained old-world wines, they’re delicious when made deftly.

Like any food or drink, the path to enlightenment involves comparative tasting. I suggest starting with three oils ­ one of each intensity. First, try them alone, drinking a small amount just as you would wine. (Pros use a special blue glass that hides potentially misleading color, which doesn’t impact flavor.) Swirl, sniff, sip, slurp, and swallow. Though odd at first to drink oil, it’s important to gauge throat burn, a sign of good oil. Note the aromas and flavors. How intense are the herbal and grassy notes? How ripe is the fruit? (Apple, banana and tropical fruits are common.) You might also note almonds, walnuts or flowers. On the finish, is it peppery and bitter, or smooth and buttery? Are there any off notes? Bad oils might feature rancid flavors or flabby texture, and barnyard is most definitely not a positive here. (Like wine, of course, there are certain divisive but acceptable flavors, such as the aforementioned tomato leaf.)

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